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Einblick

The Moral Society


How do your neighbors treat you? Good? Bad? Who is your neighbor? Jesus said that all people are our neighbors in the parable of the good Samaritan. We are to treat all members of society with grace and kindness, as befits a moral person—what Christians are supposed to be. There are some who separate morality from righteousness, saying that righteousness is what God’s standards are, and morality is the vox populi, a temporally subjective idea. But this is not the case. Morality, as defined by Jesus Himself, is simple. “So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27, New King James Version) Society is necessary—humans are social animals by Aristotle’s definition, and we desire and need community, for company, but also for safety. Safety is an illusion society creates, and society chooses what is safe—for example, cars. They are extremely dangerous, and yet society chooses to accept them for transportation efficiency. But “safety” is not the only end of society. Because we are to love are neighbors, and act in a way that is moral towards them, a moral society is what is required.
But how to go about attaining morality? Plato called morality justice, and said that the state is just a larger picture of the individual. By that reasoning, we are able to find what morality looks like by looking at the state in question. If we are to say that Plato’s “perfect” society was moral, then a glance at his Laws, Timaeus, and a reading of his Republic would be enough. Plato, however, is not our standard for morality. God is.
     And as such, God declares that humans are fundamentally sinful. By logical conclusion, we act sinful. We do immoral things. On top of this, we alone are unable to change the core of our sinfulness. Yes, people do good things. That does not change that the root is sinful. Even what we do that is outwardly right is wrong in the eyes of God. Society is built on good deeds. We build society for our protection and for company, as aforementioned. But what does a moral society need? To start, people. And these people are the base unit of a moral society. Families spring from people, and society springs from families. What makes people, families, and therefore, a society, moral?
     There are two ways to have someone believe something, in this case, make them moral. You can force them. Or you can convince them to believe it. Forcing someone in a non-apparent way, because no one likes to be forced into anything, comes in the form of oaths. Leaders swore, and still swear, oaths. During the War of the Roses, Sir Thomas Malory compiled the scattered, confused and French Arthurian tales and put them in a single, English, chronological book. Le Morte d’Arthur, as it is called, prominently features “the Pentecostal Oath,” an oath that the knights take to keep them moral.
 “…The oath was renewed, which was: only to fight in just causes, at all times to be merciful, at all times to put the service of ladies foremost.” (Le Morte d’Arthur, 1.3) 
     Arthur’s definition of moral society is wrapped up in the Pentecostal Oath. Moral society can be “forced” by oaths, but it doesn’t work out for Arthur, or for his knights. Malory’s portrayal of the knights, what they say, and how they act, tells a parallel story that directly and subtlety connects to the death of Arthur. Launcelot, the foremost and most excelling of all of Arthur’s knights, takes the Pentecostal Oath alongside all the others: to not sin and be moral. He breaks it, however, and commits perpetual adultery with Gwynevere until he is caught and forced to flee. The Pentecostal Oath failed miserably to keep the knights of the Round Table moral. The Crusades happened from 1095–1291.
     During that time, many Saracens were “converted” to Christianity—by the sword. Charlemagne tried the same thing and also failed. You can’t make someone to believe anything they don’t want to. In fact, many of the knights under the Pentecostal Oath become sinful. Only two are perfect: Sir Percivale, who is not even as perfect as Galahad, and Sir Galahad. Only Galahad is truly perfect, able to find the Holy Grail, and put sin under him. Launcelot, by comparison, is rendered unmovable and unconscious by the Holy Grail, because he is in sin, and unable to do anything about it. In a sick, twisted sort of way, Launcelot mirrors the fatal flaw of humanity. It is not necessarily our sin that dooms us, but the inability to move away from it. Launcelot tries and tries and tries to free himself from the sin and can’t. Malory chooses the words to express this in a sad and almost helpless way. Launcelot is the hero who failed. Galahad is the hero that succeeds. And Arthur—he goes to fight Modred and is killed. The consequences that come out of Launcelot’s adultery with Gwynevere cripple Arthur and cause the kingdom’s fall.
     Gawain, angered at Launcelot for killing his brothers, urges a weakened Arthur into pursuing Launcelot to the ends of the earth. Gawain is killed, and Arthur returns to Britain to find Modred in control. The armies of Arthur and Modred clash, and the knights of the Round Table, Arthur, and Modred die. Britain is engulfed in darkness, and shadows rule the land again. Malory, conversely to Tennyson in his Idylls of the King, more aligning with Twain’s Arthur in A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court, presents Arthur as foolish, and a not curious, foolish sort of king. In the beginning of the book, Arthur is unconcerned with the Questing Beast. Arthur yawns at the brachet, stags, and lady who pass through his court. By the end of the book, he is wiser, but not by much. Arthur ultimately fails to create a moral society. The Pentecostal Oath failed. The Holy Grail rejected all but one knight who abided by it, Sir Galahad, who then was freed from physical constraints because of the inherent evil in physical things.
Socrates thought that the cure for immorality was reason. Marcus Aurelius thought it was the logos inside you that you needed to listen to. Lucretius thought it was fulfilling pleasure and abstaining from pain. Arthur thought it was binding people by their honor to a promise to keep from immorality and practice morality. Socrates died. Marcus Aurelius died. Lucretius died. Arthur died. Their followers were killed, scattered, and divided.
     They were only human. What is necessary for a moral society is moral people, the base unit of society. King Mark, Arthur’s southern neighbor and King of Cornwall, didn’t even attempt to craft a moral society. His desire for Iselut, coupled with his envy of Sir Tristram, drove his desires to be his top priority, rather than morality. Anyone can be concerned with morality, like Arthur, and anyone can be unconcerned with morality like King Mark. But neither the unconcerned with morality or the concerned can become moral.
     God is real morality. God is real goodness. Because of the Fall and because of the state that has placed us in, we no longer have that ability. But because God is the source of morality, that does not mean the church and state are to be united. Rather than introduce a Christian government that will “be righteous and God-fearing and solve all problems forthwith,” a moral society must be created. Not to the exclusion of God, but rather a philosophical understanding of politics. Plato advocated in The Republic that philosophers were the best candidates to be kings because their proper understanding of morality and truth enabled them to serve in government—to him and his intellectual grandson, Aristotle, it was the master science, the art of taming the primal urges that mankind was prone to.
     When the church and state become melded, the church becomes a state or the state becomes a church, ultimately resulting in the gross misuse of power by those at the head of the church, as seen in practical application during the Middle Ages, eventually becoming a major factor in the Reformation. Philosophers, to properly understand truth, must know God. Philosophers, at least true ones, are Christians. That is what is necessary for a moral society. Not the idea of a Christian government, but Christian people coming together in the idea that society is necessary for safety and community.
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